Somalia's lower house of parliament votes to cancel presidential term extension


FILE PHOTO: Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, president of Somalia, attends the London Somalia Conference' at Lancaster House, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jack Hill/Pool/File Photo

MOGADISHU (Reuters) -Somalia's lower house of parliament voted unanimously on Saturday to cancel a two-year presidential term extension it approved last month after clashes in the capital Mogadishu and between factions of the security forces divided over the issue.

The crisis has raised fears that al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents could exploit a security vacuum if state forces split along clan lines and turn on each other. The group has taken over at least one Somali town in the past week as heavily armed fighters moved from the countryside into the capital city.

Mohamed's attempt to extend his term has also angered foreign donors, who have backed his government in an attempt to bring stability to Somalia after more than two decades as a failed state following a civil war that began in 1991.

Saturday's lower house vote was broadcast on Somali television and came shortly after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed addressed parliament and said he was directing the prime minister to prepare to hold a delayed parliamentary election.

The prime minister said in a tweet late on Saturday that the government will "soon" prepare the plan for elections, and he thanked the president and the parliament.

Mohamed's term expired in February, but without a new crop of lawmakers, parliament was unable to choose a president.

The term extension was approved by the lower house last month but rejected by the Senate, provoking the crisis that has intensified in the past week.

Between 60,000 and 100,000 people were forced to flee their homes following clashes on Sunday that stirred fears of all-out war between heavily armed factions for and against the president.

Rashid Abdi, a Nairobi-based independent analyst, said the parliamentary vote and the president's move towards holding elections appeared to be a good compromise.

"The problem is there is so little trust between the parties and as long as Farmaajo holds the levers of the military and security services, it looks difficult to build confidence in that process," he said, using a popular nickname for the president.

The U.S. Embassy, European Union ambassador, and the Turkish foreign ministry praised Saturday's developments.

BATTLE LINES DRAWN

Opposition lawmaker Abdirahman Odowaa told Reuters "much remains to be done", adding that he wanted Mohamed to formalise what had been agreed.

"The handing over of security and election process to the prime minister should be documented and signed ... (He) has to go to the conference tent and sign ... before all," Odowaa said.

Senator Ilyas Ali Hassan, from another opposition party, Himilo Qaran, said he hoped Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble "will now lead the election and ... do the right thing, so that this country can have a free and fair election".

Abdulahi Ali Hirsi Timaade, information minister of Puntland, one of Somalia's five regional governments, told Reuters he wanted Mohamed to confirm in a letter that he had given Roble responsibility for the elections and security.

Mogadishu shopkeeper Duale Hussein said he feared the opposition had been duped.

"He cleverly did a somersault," Hussein said of the president. "Farmaajo still rules everything ... Roble is just his remote control."

It was not immediately clear whether security forces loyal to the opposition would withdraw from fortified positions in the capital following Saturday's news from parliament, having refused to do so earlier this week.

Somalia's armed forces include members of clan militias who have often battled each other for power and resources.

Mohamed is Darod, one of Somalia's major clans. Most of the opposition leaders and Somali military in the capital are Hawiye, another large clan.

(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Additional reporting by Abdiqani Hassan in Garowe and Nazanine Moshiri in Nairobi; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Alex Richardson and Catherine Evans)

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